Who Do You Say That I Am?

"The Prophetess Anna" by Rembrandt [cropped], public domain via Wikimedia Commons

This post is based on Week Four of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

When I was first introduced to Ignatian spirituality more than 40 years ago, I had to answer the question, “Who is God for you?” I realized that my prayer had always been directed to Jesus. I had a general idea of God the Father, and I sometimes experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit, but it had always been Jesus whom I addressed in my own words, outside the limits of formal prayer. In spiritual direction, I’ve repeatedly heard the same answer; interestingly, the directees who pray to a vague, omnipotent, eternal God have the most difficulty in prayer.

Who, then, is Jesus? The Gospels, particularly the first two chapters of Luke, which we read this week in our Ignatian Prayer Adventure, place a lot of emphasis on recognizing Jesus’ divinity and messiahship. Mary is told that the Child to be born of her is the Son of God (Luke 1:35). The shepherds are told that, “a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (2:11). And when Mary and Joseph bring the Child to the Temple to fulfill the requirements of Jewish law, he is recognized by not one but two God-centered laypeople (2:22–38). The trend continues throughout the four Gospels, as for example, when demons expelled by Jesus recognize him at the beginning of his ministry (Mark 1:21–26) and quite dramatically in Peter’s oft-quoted, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13–16).

It occurs to me, particularly in praying over the familiar passages that we read every year from the week before Christmas until Epiphany, that all these recognition scenes are told and emphasized because Jesus was first encountered as a very ordinary-appearing human baby. The adult Jesus must also have been seen as an ordinary rabbi—until people personally experienced his authentic teaching and his healing power.

We know that Jesus was both human and divine—but it’s sometimes hard to wrap our heads around the divine part. It’s easier for many of us to understand Jesus our Brother and to pray to Jesus the Person—the living, breathing person who ate and drank and laughed with his friends; who felt real compassion for the people he healed; and who was frustrated and hurt by the taunts of his enemies. Because Jesus was fully human, he is our model of how we humans are called to live a God-centered life. We will be called to a deeper understanding of that experience in the coming weeks of our retreat.

For me, understanding who Jesus is also challenges me to turn the question around, to ask Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” As we grow in imitation of Jesus, we may be given new and unexpected graces and called to new challenges, even to new ways of identifying ourselves. I heard a call to be a spiritual director in my mid-70s and published a book about Ignatian spirituality for the aging a few months after my 80th birthday. I relate in a very personal way to the story of 84-year-old Anna in the Gospel story of the Presentation (Luke 2:36–38). I am still discovering who Jesus is and who he calls me to be.

Who do you say that Jesus is? Who does Jesus say that you are?

Art: “The Prophetess Anna” by Rembrandt [cropped], public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

About Barbara Lee 9 Articles
Barbara Lee is a practicing spiritual director who lives in New York City. She is a retired attorney, a former U.S. magistrate judge, and a long-serving member of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. She is the author of God Isn’t Finished with Me Yet: Discovering the Spiritual Graces of Later Life.

14 Comments on Who Do You Say That I Am?

  1. Thank you for this wonderful reflection. I appreciate that the Lord is continuing using your life and you still are growing in the Faith of Our Lord! Blessings to you and yours.

  2. I am the strange one. I think because my father left us, my relationship had always been with God theFather starting during my formative years. It wasn’t until I came in contact with Ignatian Spirituality in my 60’s that I formed a relationship with Jesus.
    So it is not too late to know any ‘part’ of God because He loves us.

    • I so agree. I have problems getting my head around
      the human part of Jesus. Now working on it through Ignatian Spirituality.

  3. Barbara, your blog post today comes as I finish reading “Always Discerning: An Ignatian Spirituality for the New Millennium” by Fr. Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ.

    I’d never thought of turning the question around and asking Jesus “who do you say I am?” I had a number of good intentions on how I would keep Lent this year but let them slide. I felt discouraged that I hadn’t made any progress but this morning realized these blog posts together with the above book have been, in fact, God leading me through Lent, enlightening, revealing truths day by day. It’s been an entirely different experience with God in the lead.

  4. Jesus said: “No one comes to the Father, except through Me”. That is what I was taught. As a child I did think of God the Father but not often .It was Jesus that was in my thoughts as I prayed, still is.
    I am very grateful for your Reflections, as I am in my early eighties, I find your writings more in keeping for me. Thank you. A.M.D.G.

  5. Fantastic. Beautiful. God, I believe, has been after me my whole life. I’m like Jonah and I’ve been living in the belly of the whale. Your message is a wonderful share that becoming the person God wants us to be does not end with adolescence or upon receiving a college degree. Its not as if because I balked at the grace he sent my way when I was younger means I blew it. Suffer. Live in that fish’s belly for the rest of your life. No. God still loves me. He loved me forty tears ago and he loves me today. I’ve had numerous inklings in my life that confirmed I was on the right track. One I need faith to embrace. One He will provide me with the necessary strength and most of all courage. We went through the sixties. I made it and my relationship with God is still vibrant, more vibrant and dramatically more essential than when I mostly listened to the lyrics of rock and roll. Who does God say that I am? I’ve been trying to negotiate God’s message to match my circumstances. The world discourages me and tells me such a meditation is grandiose. The naysaying voice says get real and accept your sunset years as a time when I should be happy playing golf or watching reruns on television. Is that God’s voice speaking to me? I don’t think so. I’m alive. Once again, God loves me. Still, I need to embrace God’s voice that wants me to celebrate his encouragements. Your “Who Am I?” share helped remind me of this this morning. Thank you. I pray God blesses you in all your endeavors.

  6. I am new to Ignatian spiritual practice and am a Protestant, so this might be a very dumb and inappropriate question but I am interested in theology, so I will ask it. Are you saying that Jesus is God for you? I am not trying to suggest a Trinitarian argument, I am interested in the life of prayer. You say that those who pray to a vague, eternal God have a hard time. Are you saying, then, that Christ-as-God-incarnate is a more relational focus of prayer?

    Thank you for any insights you feel called to share.

    Prayer is so interesting. I pray for the presence of God even while knowing that I pray always in the presence of God, I pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and I pray in companionship with Jesus…

    • VeeW, I will leave it to Barbara Lee to answer your question, but wanted to comment your question is neither “dumb” nor “inappropriate”. We remember what Jesus said “seek and you will find”, and “ask and it will be given you”. We are all seekers on our journey together. May the peace of Christ be yours this Lent and Easter.

    • Your question is certainly neither dumb nor inappropriate! I am not a theologian, but in my experience (personally and as a spiritual director)the question “Who is God for you?” is an essential foundation of the life of prayer. I find it natural and address Jesus in prayer; other people are more comfortable speaking to God the Father or the Holy Spirit. None of these approaches suggest that we don’t believe in the Trinity; nor do they reflect a lot of theological reasoning. (After all, most of us learn to pray when we are very young, before we learn very much about God intellectually.) Prayer is a personal relationship with God; it may be enriched by what we know intellectually, but ultimately it’s from the heart, not the mind.

  7. I felt led to read this article and feel very encouraged by it. I, too, feel led to become a Spiritual director. And, I, too am later in years 66. Thanks for sharing this.

    May God continue to richly bless you.

    Take good care,
    Wendy

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